What is it like to work as a nurse?
As the biggest profession in healthcare in the United States, nursing is often referred to as the heart of the hospitality sector. According to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there are an estimated 3 million Registered Nurses (RNs) in the American workforce right now, along with 700,000 Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), outnumbering doctors by a ratio of 3:1. Moreover, this field is projected to experience a further 16% growth in the next decade.
Nurses play a crucial role in healthcare institutions. There are various nursing career paths, which means nurses can choose from a wide variety of job opportunities ranging from general practices to niche nursing specialties such as oncology.
Despite being considered one of the most professionally in-demand, satisfying, personally rewarding, and secure professions in the healthcare industry, nursing is a challenging role that demands dedication and hard work. Additionally, an individual in this position must be very thick-skinned since nurses deal with life, death and everything in between.
What is nursing?
Nurses are licensed and highly trained medical professionals who use their knowledge and skills to provide assistance, care, and triage, develop treatment plans, support patients through various medical procedures, and offer guidance regarding outpatient care.
Nurses strive to deliver the best quality of care to their communities, regardless of disease or disability. The exact roles of these professionals have changed slightly over the years, but their significance in the healthcare industry remains evident.
Nurses typically work alongside a team of other medical professionals and staff, including doctors, physicians, social workers, therapists, and other healthcare specialists. While doctors often specialize in a single field, nurses can coordinate care for practically every aspect of a patient’s overall health.
Nurses usually have a fairly varied schedule throughout their day, with shifts being common because of the busy workload, so a day in the life of a professional in this position can include a broad range of duties.
Skills a nurse must possess
No two nurses are alike, but here are some of the key skills that a nurse should possess to successfully take on this demanding career:
- Excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to make decisions in critical situations
- Top-notch people skills to comfort and support them through tough times
- Outstanding administrative, organizational and multi-tasking skills
- The emotional maturity to deal with emotionally charged and pressured situations
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills
- A team player with fantastic communication and interpersonal skills
- A responsible, selfless, and compassionate nature
Typical duties and responsibilities of a nurse
To treat their patients, nurses fulfill many roles and take on various responsibilities on a daily basis. A nurse’s duties may vary depending on many factors, including the work setting (both geographically and the type of facility), the population they serve, their qualifications and experience, and the size of the nursing team and staff.
Here are some of the key duties and tasks performed by nurses in everyday life.
Monitoring patients’ health and progress
Nurses carefully monitor and observe their patients’ conditions and assess their needs to deliver exemplary care, offer advice, record or analyze any symptoms that may lead to a potential diagnosis or change in their treatment plans, and communicate these symptoms to the attending physician.
This may involve monitoring and documenting the patient’s vital signs on a scheduled basis, looking through their records to ensure the correct drugs and dosages are listed, and maintaining intravenous (IV) lines. Additionally, nurses must keep a close eye on nonverbal cues to identify underlying causes for their patients’ health-related issues.
Whenever a doctor prescribes medication for a patient, the nurse is usually the one responsible for delivering the medication to them. These medications are either administered orally or parenterally via subcutaneous injection or an IV line. This is a very important task in which a slight misunderstanding can adversely affect a patient’s health, so nurses must have an extensive understanding of various drugs and their unique side effects. Moreover, they may be expected to administer vaccines and contact pharmacies to acquire prescriptions for patients.
Conducting diagnostic tests
Nurses are required to perform various diagnostic tests, such as drawing blood, checking vitals, and collecting stool, tissue, and urine samples for analysis. It is essential for nurse practitioners to direct their entire focus to such tasks to ensure that these tests are conducted properly as this information is critical for diagnosing patients and devising treatment plans. They may also be responsible for examining the results of these tests and conveying what they find to the rest of their team.
Collaborating with other healthcare professionals
Nurses work as members of a medical team that is usually made up of numerous healthcare professionals, including doctors, physical therapists, medical students, physicians, healthcare assistants, social workers, and other medical practitioners. They are responsible for effectively communicating and updating the remaining members of their team regarding any changes or recent developments in a patient’s case.
Maintaining medical histories
Nurses are also responsible for recording and maintaining complete, thorough, and accurate patient health documentation. This enables them to provide quality care and ensure that they receive proper treatment. Nurses often ask patients about their current medication, medical history, allergies, surgeries, and the symptoms they are experiencing. In cases where a patient is prescribed a new medication or receives a new diagnosis or treatment plan, a nurse must update their medical record with this new information.
Performing physical examinations
Another typical duty of a nurse is conducting the patient’s physical examination at the beginning of their visit to evaluate their overall health. This may entail recording a patient’s weight, checking their blood pressure, and taking their temperature.
This evaluation may also include testing their reflexes and examining their throat, eyes, nose, and ears. With the help of a physical examination, nurses and the rest of the medical team receive a current update on the patient’s health and treat them accordingly.
- Assessing patients and gaining their confidence and trust
- Providing spiritual, emotional, and psychological support to patients and their families
- Developing or contributing to uniquely tailored patient care plans
- Assisting in surgical operations and other medical procedures
- Educating patients and their relatives on how to follow their prescribed treatment and recovery instructions upon returning home
- Providing counseling, explaining treatment and healthcare care plans, and answering related questions
- Overseeing, instructing and guiding student nurses and junior staff
- Monitoring and operating medical equipment
Types of nurses and their educational requirements
Nursing is a very diverse profession that opens doors to a wide range of career possibilities. Here is a list of some of the types of nurses that are currently experiencing the highest demand in the US.
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN)
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are entry-level nurses who support the healthcare team. They work closely with Registered Nurses (RNs) and/or physicians to offer basic nursing care to patients and support them throughout their healthcare journey. After completing one to two years of vocational training, new nurses often start out as an LPN to gain experience before advancing their professional career with an associate or bachelor’s degree (BSN).
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses (RN) are considered the backbone of the healthcare sector in the United States. RNs provide critical healthcare, administer medication, assist in diagnostic testing, and offer emotional support to a diverse and rapidly growing population by collaborating with a team of multidisciplinary professionals in various settings.
Two main educational pathways exist to becoming an RN: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). However, BSN-prepared nurses are the more sought-after type and can advance to management and leadership positions more quickly.
A BSN degree is usually a four-year program, but with some online courses, such as the Elmhurst University accelerated nursing program, you can complete this degree in just 16 months. This fast-tracked degree can be earned by anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any other field and can fully prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A Certified Nursing Assistant’s primary responsibility is to support RNs. This is a great opportunity for those who aspire to eventually become nurses. These nursing professionals are key members of the care team, offer basic care, and oversee a patient’s Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), including bathing, mobility, dressing, feeding, and hygiene.
They are also responsible for monitoring patients’ vital signs and symptoms and reporting any abnormal findings to a nurse. To get started as a CNA, an individual must possess a high school diploma, a post-secondary degree, and a CNA certificate.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is a special type of APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse) who specializes in administering sedatives such as anesthesia to patients to alleviate pain or prepare them for surgeries. They may work alongside surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, or other medical practitioners or independently. Some CRNAs work as independent healthcare professionals; this means they are not supervised by a physician.
Becoming a CRNA requires clinical training, a BSN, and a Master in Nurse Anesthesia (MNA). Due to their high demand and extensive training and certification, these nurses make up some of the highest-paid practitioners in the healthcare industry.
Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
A Critical Care Registered Nurse is a medical professional who typically works in intensive care units (ICU) and deals with unstable patients suffering from either critical illnesses or life-threatening injuries. A CCRN is trained explicitly for highly stressful scenarios and emergencies. Such nurses can be expected to assess treatment needs, administer medication, infuse blood, and tend to severe wounds. For this role, individuals must hold a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Emergency Room Nurse (ERN)
Emergency Room Nurses, or ERNs provide instant care, tend to basic wounds, and stabilize, triage, revive, resolve, or stabilize life-threatening situations. These practitioners often work closely with first responders and emergency medical staff. Due to the intense atmosphere of an ER setting, ERNs should have the ability to handle unexpected situations while remaining level-headed and practical. ERNs are required to attain either a bachelor’s or associate degree.
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Healthcare professionals who are licensed to provide advanced, comprehensive, and specialized care, including preventive care, managing chronic and acute illnesses, assessing results, and prescribing medication, are known as Nurse Practitioners. These individuals can specialize in various areas such as Pediatric, Family Care, Acute Care, Oncology, Psychiatric, Neonatal, and Women’s Health.
NPs can run medical practices without being under the supervision of a physician in some states. Becoming an NP requires an individual to acquire a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or two to three years of alternative training.
What are nursing salaries?
Regardless of the work setting, nurses enjoy job security, a good salary, and a wide range of benefits. Nursing salaries are, on average, around 7% higher compared to the average job salary nationwide.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average pay for nurses in the US is $37.31 per hour, or $77,600 per year. That is just an average amount; the pay can vary significantly and reach as high as $130,000 annually depending on the degrees, specific region or state, specialties, experience, and many other factors. For example, in Massachusetts, RNs earn more than $93,000 per year.
Most nurses work in hospitals and other healthcare institutions. Such facilities often require round-the-clock staffing since they remain in operation 24/7, every day of the year. Nurses may be expected to work evenings, holiday shifts, and weekends. In some cases, nurses are on call and must be ready to work on short notice.
In these settings, a nurse typically works closely with other medical professionals as a team to deliver optimal care to patients. Nurses may also have the opportunity to work with a broad range of patient populations belonging to different cultures, religions, professions, and other walks of life. Since hospitals and other healthcare institutions are often clouded with despair, nurses must be able to maintain a positive state of mind, learn to handle stress, and refrain from getting too involved.
Common work settings for nurses
Hospitals are not the only facilities that require the services offered by nurses. You can come across a nurse in a variety of healthcare settings, including:
- Schools and higher education institutions
- Private physicians’ offices
- State, local, and private hospitals
- Outpatient care centers
- Home healthcare settings
- Nursing homes
- Community health centers
- Correctional facilities
- War zones and military bases
- Private sector organizations
The benefits of taking on nursing as a career
Here is a look at some of the many benefits that individuals enjoy when they pursue nursing as a professional career:
- Excellent salary: Nursing is a great profession that offers a stable and decent paycheck.
- Internationally employable: There are hospitals in almost every part of the world, and where there are hospitals, there’s a need for nurses as well. If you decide to move to another country, you should have no problem finding work as a nurse, although you may need to obtain local certification.
- High-demand job: Regardless of where you are in the world, nurses are always in high demand and valued because of the knowledge and skills they carry with them as trained medical professionals.
- Opportunity for overtime: Nurses typically have many opportunities to earn additional pay by taking on extra shifts. Since medical facilities require nurses on a 24/7 basis, picking up an extra shift is usually fairly easy.
- Flexibility: Nursing comes with great flexibility as a nurse’s work is organized into shifts instead of specific hours every week. This decreases the days a nurse works each week. They can also choose to work on a full-time, part-time, or on-call basis.
- Diverse opportunities: Nurses have the opportunity to choose from a wealth of options when it comes to where they wish to work. They also have the option of working in different areas of medicine throughout their career.
Nursing is considered one of the most satisfying professions in the world as nurses save lives on a daily basis. They also receive fair rates of pay, career advancement opportunities, and flexibility, all of which contribute to reduced stress levels, job satisfaction, improved productivity, and overall happiness.